“I have spent much of my time simply walking,” wrote Barry Lopez in “River Notes: The Dance of Herons,” a pocket-sized but powerful delve into Oregon’s McKenzie River …
“I have spent much of my time simply walking,” wrote Barry Lopez in “River Notes: The Dance of Herons,” a pocket-sized but powerful delve into Oregon’s McKenzie River and a dreamlike exploration of self in relationship with place. Lopez’s deeply entwined journey, as experienced on Earth, came to an end on December 25 following a long battle with prostate cancer.
The award-winning author, who was born on the epiphany in 1945, left a legacy that is testimony to a life well-lived and richly experienced. As well, it lights the way for we who cross the boundary of a highly unsettling year and enter the uncertainties of 2021.
Renowned for his exquisite descriptions of the natural world, the acclaimed author was born in New York, raised in California and ultimately settled in Oregon. There, he turned to the McKenzie River for its restorative grace when issues like the damage done by climate change—a consistent concern of Lopez’s—became overwhelming.
In September, a devastating wildfire swept down the McKenzie River Valley, destroying more than 700 homes and outbuildings, much of the forest around Lopez’s home, as well as an archive of his books, awards, notes and correspondence. Lopez and his wife, Debra Gwartney, were forced to evacuate and relocate.
“For 10 miles in both directions along the river from us, all that stands where a whole community once lived are bare chimneys,” Lopez wrote in a post on his website (www.barrylopez.com). “The severity of the fire is widely thought to be the direct result of a climate change event.”
Many of us in the Upper Delaware River region live lives that are deeply entwined with “our” river and its welfare. Our local land trust, the Delaware Highlands Conservancy (www.delawarehighlands.org) was born from the realization that protecting the river requires protecting the lands along its corridor.
“It is to the thought of the river’s banks that I most frequently return, their wordless emergence at a headwaters, the control they urge on the direction of the river, mile after mile, and their disappearance here on the beach as the river enters the ocean. It occurs to me that at the very end the river is suddenly abandoned, that just before it’s finished the edges disappear completely, that in this moment a whole life is revealed,” wrote Lopez in “River Notes.”
Lopez crossed the river on Christmas Day, enveloped in the love of his four daughters and wife, Debra, who washed him with water from his beloved river. Learn more about the McKenzie River Trust, with which Lopez worked as a devoted steward at www.mckenzieriver.org.
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